In case you weren’t paying attention, distracted by unbuilt stadiums and low attendance figures, this team is pretty darn good. Not great, mind you. Maybe that will come later in the summer. But with the season about one-third complete, D.C. United is ahead of schedule despite tossing together seven new starters, not receiving much scoring production from Eddie Johnson and losing Chris Pontius to a long-term injury.
United is 5-1-3 since losing the first two matches by shutout. Fabian Espindola, rescued from the re-entry pool, is showing Best XI qualities. The defense is much improved. Bill Hamid is making quality saves. The Chris Rolfe trade was genius.
Saturday’s visit to surging and rested New England will provide a stern test for a DCU side playing a third match in eight days (7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet). Imagine, almost three months into the season, United and the Revolution — not New York and Kansas City — are atop the Eastern Conference.
The influx of veteran players have provided stability and composure in Washington.
“I don’t have to rev this crew up,” Olsen said, no double MLS pun intended. “They’ve been doing this a long time. So they know how to manage themselves and how to get up for games. We’ve got a long way to go. This season is a grind. It’s a quick turnaround, so we’ve got to rest up and piece together a team for the weekend.”
So what does Olsen do with Johnson, who will return from a one-game suspension? EJ is not in the best place mentally right now, having being snubbed by Juergen Klinsmann and penalized by MLS in the past 10 days. Leaving him on the bench will not improve his mind-set. Reunite him with Espindola and move Rolfe back to the left side? Leave the Espindola-Rolfe tandem in place and use EJ off the bench? Return Johnson to the frontline with Espindola and tuck Rolfe underneath? Fatigue will also come into play: Veterans Davy Arnaud and Lewis Neal both put in 90 minutes, and Rolfe and Espindola received 10- and 2-minute breaks, respectively.
Tough player management and lineup decisions lie ahead for Olsen.